Malacañang on Tuesday thanked the United States for standing with the Philippines as its long-time ally amid the presence of at least 200 Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“The Philippines thanks the United States, its best friend,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a virtual presser.
Roque’s statement came after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a Twitter post on Monday, said Washington is ready to help the Philippines defend WPS.
“The United States stands with our ally, the Philippines, in the face of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) maritime militia amassing at Whitsun Reef,” Blinken said. “We will always stand by our allies and stand up for the rules-based international order.”
Blinken made the remarks following the presence of Chinese ships at Julian Felipe Reef, a large boomerang-shaped shallow coral reef at the northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs) located approximately 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.
On Monday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ship will be stationed off Julian Felipe Reef to monitor the large number of Chinese vessels amassing the vicinity since March 7.
Likewise, Navy chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said several Philippine Navy ships, including BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS-16) and the anti-submarine corvette BRP Conrado Yap (PS-39) are ready for patrol missions at the Julian Felipe Reef.
The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea earlier raised worry about a PCG report that around 220 Chinese fishing vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel, were sighted in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef on March 7.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed on March 22 that around 183 Chinese vessels were sighted by a Philippine maritime air patrol in Julian Felipe Reef.
The Philippines has been deploying military aircraft to monitor the situation in the area since the reported sighting of Chinese ships at the Julian Felipe Reef.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) already lodged a note verbale to protest the “unauthorized and lingering” presence of Chinese ships in and around Julian Felipe Reef.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian assured Duterte during his recent social call on the President that the Philippines need not worry over the reported presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef.
China earlier said the spotted Chinese boats off the Julian Felipe Reef in the WPS were merely taking shelter due to rough sea conditions.
The Philippines on July 12, 2016 won its petition filed before the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration after the international court invalidated China’s supposedly historic rights over almost the entire disputed South China Sea.
China does not recognize the ruling while the Philippines has opted to resolve the sea dispute with China through diplomatic approach.
Other countries with competing claims in the area are Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.